Now, though, the house is quiet. Too quiet.See, hunger can make you quiet, especially if you're saving up all your strength for a battle. And that's what Beloved and Sethe are doing.
There's no more food in the house. Sethe's wasting away. She's lost her job at Sawyer's because Beloved's been consuming all her time and energy.
Beloved, on the other hand, is getting fatter and bigger and shinier by the day, although she still keeps asking for sweets and she seems really weak.It's been this way for a while now.
For the first month, Denver thinks everything is great. They play games, ice-skate in the moonlight. Sethe makes them dresses trimmed with such colorful ribbons that they look fit for a carnival. But then Denver realizes that Sethe and Beloved aren't including her in their games, so Denver drops into the background and decides just to watch over Beloved.
At first, Denver thinks Sethe might be the dangerous element. You know, because of Sethe's history with Beloved.
But Denver discovers that Beloved's the problem. Nothing Sethe does for Beloved is enough; Beloved just demands more.
Slowly, things change; the atmosphere in the house is no longer loving. Beloved gets angry whenever Sethe doesn't give her enough of what she wants. And since Beloved is basically a bottomless pit of need and desire, Sethe's pretty much screwed.
Sethe tries to get Beloved to ease up on her demands by pulling the whole "I suffered so much as a mother for all of you" shtick, but no go—Beloved doesn't feel guilty.
In fact, Sethe's attempt at guilt trips just prompts Beloved to ask that million dollar question that Sethe probably really doesn't want to hear: how could Sethe leave Beloved behind?It's like a reverse guilt trip.
Sethe cries, tries to explain why she did what she did back then, but Beloved's totally one-ups Sethe when it comes to tragedy.
Beloved tells Sethe that Beloved was the one who had dead men on top of her; who starved from having nothing to eat. Oh and here's a kicker that we're just going to quote outright: "Ghosts without skin [we're guessing white men again] stuck their fingers in her and said beloved in the dark and bitch in the light." Yeah. Try beating that for trauma-drama.
Plus, she was killed by her mother.
How does a mother respond to all of that? Sethe commits to Beloved even more, says she would have taken Beloved's place if she could (a whole lot of good that does now). She also lists all the ways in which she was a devoted, attentive mother back at Sweet Home.
But Beloved doesn't buy any of it. She accuses Sethe of never coming to her, never speaking to her, never smiling, and—worst of all—never saying goodbye or looking at her once she leaves Beloved.
And what happens when Sethe—on occasion—tries to assert her maternal will?
Beloved throws tantrums that we're betting even Supernanny wouldn't be able to manage. Basically, Beloved is like the toddler from hell, and, instead of checking the behavior like a mother should, Sethe just feeds that bad behavior by bending to Beloved's will.
Since Beloved takes everything from Sethe, Sethe is left literally scraping the bottom—of bowls, stoves, jam jars.
Denver tries to help Sethe where she can.
Eventually, Beloved drains Sethe and the household so much that the three become physically exhausted and listless. Denver sees that they're wasting away, locked together in a destructive love. You know those relationships that your mother tells you to stay away from? This is one of them, except Denver can't tell her mother that.
What does jolt Denver into action is when she sees Sethe spit something up that isn't food. Sethe's clearly sick, which makes Denver understand that it isn't Beloved who needs protection, but Sethe.
So Denver decides to leave 124, go into the community (which—let's face it—is just like going into the world for her), and ask for help.But she's petrified and frozen on the steps of 124.
Okay, leaving your house may not seem like a big deal, but, for Denver, it is. She hasn't left 124 by herself in a long, long time.
Plus, she doesn't know who to go to for help. She only has two real options: Stamp Paid and Lady Jones, her teacher. She more or less settles on Lady Jones.
So Denver's on the steps, ready to go. It's a gorgeous spring day. But she can't move.
Denver thinks back to a conversation between Baby Suggs and Sethe about white people. Sethe ends up defending (some) white people; she says that not all of them are bad and some of them have helped her and Baby Suggs out.
But Baby Suggs isn't so forgiving. In fact, she describes white people almost like animals: they "prowl at will" and behave in an inhuman way.
So you can understand why Denver might not want to leave 124. It may be crazy in the house but at least there isn't the threat of those scary white people, who might be anywhere out there.
And then it's like Denver hears Baby Suggs speak to her. Okay, given that Beloved might be a ghost, it's more like this: Baby Suggs actually does speak to her. Her advice to Denver? Sure, there's no defense against white people and the rest of the world. But you "[k]now it, and go on out the yard. Go on."
So Denver does. She walks, at first with trepidation and then with gradual ease, down the roads that lead to Lady Jones' house. She discovers that those things that looked so big to her when she was much younger, like a boulder or a dog, now seem small.
When Denver gets there, Lady Jones is pretty surprised to see her, but she recognizes Denver right away.It's also the first time that we get to "see" Denver. We find out, for instance, that she has the look of a child about her even though she must be 18 or 19 years old.
Through Lady Jones's perspective, we learn, moreover, that Denver was a smart kid who learned quickly even though other people (not Lady Jones, of course) thought Denver was "simple."
What about Lady Jones, though? Who is she? For starters, she's mixed: part black, part white. She has gray eyes and yellow hair.
It's her hair that's a sore spot for Lady Jones. Ever since her childhood, she's heard all the racial slurs a mixed kid can hear. As a result, Lady Jones has grown into hating her hair.She's also convinced that the world hates her, including her "rainbow-colored children," born of her union with the "blackest man she could find."
Among the other things that happened to her because of her race: she got picked to teach at a school for black children in Pennsylvania and, in turn, has devoted her life to teaching the "unpicked" kids in Cincinnati—kids like Denver.
But back to Denver: Denver's come to Lady Jones looking for work because she needs to find a way to feed her mother and her sister.
Lady Jones immediately feels sorry for Denver and murmurs "oh, baby." The moment Denver hears that word and experiences Lady Jones' kindness is the moment she gets introduced to not just the world, but adulthood in general. Lady Jones opens the way for Denver to experience a community again.
Even though Lady Jones doesn't believe that anyone should hire a person to do housework, she makes it clear to Denver that Denver doesn't have to worry about food. Her church and the community can give Denver's family food.Is it pride or something else?
In any case, Denver refuses Lady Jones's charity and leaves.
However, only a couple of days later, Denver finds a sack of white beans on the tree stump in the yard of 124. That starts things off.
Women in the community start to leave food at 124. They never come in, but they leave little notes saying who left the food.
Although Denver's shy, she does know her manners and so she starts to visit the women in order to show her thanks. And slowly, Denver becomes a part of the community.
Moreover, Denver's continuing her education with Lady Jones. She learns to read the Bible and even memorizes 52 pages, one page for each day of the year.
Meanwhile, Sethe and Beloved aren't doing well. Sure, they take the food, but otherwise, they're pretty much in their own world. Denver's ignored, which, if you think about it, probably isn't the worst thing in the world for Denver.
The relationship between Sethe and Beloved has deteriorated so much that their roles have completely reversed: Sethe's like a baby and Beloved's like the mother. Sethe gives everything up to Beloved while Beloved just roams around eating and sleeping.
By the way, Beloved's huge now—like watermelon-in-the-stomach huge… catch the hint?
Denver tries to take care of Sethe and Beloved (does she have the choice not to?) as usual, but there's not much else she can do outside of feed them. To her, the dynamic between Sethe and Beloved is pretty clear: Sethe feels bad about the handsaw and so she's trying to make it up to Beloved. And Beloved has no qualms about making Sethe pay for the past.
Denver's pretty disgusted by the whole deal, but she gets why Sethe lets Beloved get away with everything: she's like how Denver used to be—scared that Beloved might leave.
And not just leave—Beloved might leave before Sethe gets her to understand what slavery under white people was like; how it could make you so "dirty" that you forgot who you were.
Sethe's best part is her children. They're clean and pure and there's no way Sethe will ever let any of them get dirtied by the stain of slavery.
Of course, this all goes over Beloved's head. Or rather, she doesn't care. She only cares about the fact that Sethe was the cause of all her trauma.
While Sethe and Beloved are embroiled in their obsession for each other, Denver—her father's daughter—becomes super-practical.
The girl understands that she needs to find work; charity's great and all but it can't go on forever. Plus, it's not like she can do anything about her mother and Beloved; they're beyond help and, by the way, still totally ignorant of all that Denver and the community have done for them.
Denver gets it now: it's time for self-preservation. Nelson Lord reminds her of this when, in passing, he happens to say to her, "Take care of yourself, Denver."
Ever the smart one, Denver figures that the Bodwins had at one time helped Baby Suggs and Sethe, so why not continue the tradition and help out Denver?
That's how Denver ends up at the Bodwins', discussing job opportunities with the Bodwins' black maid Janey Wagon. Janey's more than that though; she's the gatekeeper for the Bodwins (who are old now).
She determines who gains access to the Bodwins.Maybe it's because Denver recognizes that Janey's not going to help her until Denver tells her whole story to Janey.
Denver finds herself spilling her guts to Janey, which basically means that—of course—Janey's going to help her out. Janey remembers and respects Baby Suggs. She also seems to know something's up with Denver's "cousin" (a.k.a. Beloved) because she asks if Beloved's hands have lines (which Beloved doesn't… creepy).
So she offers Denver a job as a night nurse/maid for the Bodwins. Janey can't do that job anymore and needs someone to cover her. If you haven't guessed, Janey clearly holds quite a bit of power in the Bodwins' household; she's kind of like a cross between a head of Human Resources and an executive assistant.
Everything seems great as Denver leaves the Bodwin house, except that she sees something pretty strange. Actually, it's not strange as much as it's a little disturbing considering the Bodwins are supposed to be the good type of white people: Denver notices a small figurine of a black boy on a shelf. The black boy has his mouth wide open, full of money; he also happens to be kneeling. Painted across the bottom of the figurine's pedestal is the phrase "At Yo Service."
Perhaps not the most racially-sensitive piece of interior decoration.
Once Denver's gone, you can bet that her story spreads like wildfire.
Janey doesn't even bother keeping her mouth shut, but she isn't just feeding the rumor mill. She's concerned, just like many of the women in the community become concerned once they hear the full story of Denver's plight.
Ella (you remember her—Stamp got mad at her for not taking in Paul D), especially, thinks something needs to be done about Beloved and Sethe. She convinces a bunch of women that a rescue is in order.
Why is Ella more concerned than most of the others? We get the sense that she's a version of your modern-day community activist. She's practical and into community-building. She also has a pretty bad history herself, with a childhood in which she was "shared" by both the father of the house and his son.
Ella was never a fan of Sethe, who turned away from the community after she got out of jail. But Ella recognizes sense when she sees it, and she sees it in Denver.
Plus, she thinks the past should stay in the past and the dead shouldn't be in the world of the living. In practical terms, that means Beloved's whole ghostly possession act has got to go.
On the day Denver's supposed to start her job, Ella and about 30 other women show up at 124.
The women are a pan-religious bunch; they bring crosses, chicken necks… hey, whatever works, right?
Denver doesn't see them at first because she's looking the other way for Mr. Bodwin, who's supposed to pick her up. She's also shaken up because she's just had a sad dream about a pair of shoes, running. (You might want to ask yourself what the deal is with shoes. Or you can just check out our section on "Symbols.")
Denver finally sees them grouped outside the house. She waves. Some of them wave back.
Then the women start to pray. And sing—a song without words.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bodwin's literally taking a trip down memory lane as he's driving toward 124.
He's thinking about how fond he is of 124, so much so that he doesn't mind not charging much rent (or any) on it since it at least hasn't been abandoned. It's the place where he's buried his childhood treasures, like a box of tin soldiers and a watch chain with no watch. His buried childhood treasure makes him think of his father, who we get the feeling was a tough love kind of dad. But his father also believed and taught Mr. Bodwin this core principle: all human life is holy.
Mr. Bodwin has definitely lived that principle. He was, after all, a part of the Society—an abolitionist group—and helped slaves as much as he could. For instance, he and his sister were the ones who got Sethe out of jail.
But that's all in the past. Now Mr. Bodwin just wants the simple things in life, like knowing where his childhood treasures are; going home; eating supper; sleeping.Okay, why is all this stuff about Mr. Bodwin important? Where's the good stuff?
We promise: this is where the action starts.
Mr. Bodwin is arriving at 124 just as the women are picking up their singing.
By this time, Sethe and Beloved have noticed the women enough to go outside on the porch. Sethe has an ice pick in her pocket because she had been breaking up ice in the yard earlier. Beloved's feverish and ragged, but, standing on the porch, she looks like a hot, pregnant Medusa to the women in the yard.
Then Sethe sees Mr. Bodwin's black hat. Can you guess where this is going? Yep. Sethe freaks out.
The white man is coming into her yard; the white man is coming for "her best thing."
She hears hummingbird wings. She becomes one with the ice pick and goes all Basic Instinct on Mr. Bodwin (poor guy—he really wasn't expecting this). Hey, we can look at it this way: at least she doesn't go for Beloved a second time.
Beloved, on the other hand, feels loss. She's been left alone on the porch and all she can think is that Sethe's leaving her again.
That is until Beloved sees the man without skin (or, in this case, Mr. Bodwin) looking at her…
Read on to the next chapter to see what happens (hey, even a Nobel-prize-winning author needs an occasional cliffhanger).